My husband and I have just returned from a lovely skiing holiday staying in the Hotel Plein Sud, 3rd to 10th February, booked with Crystal through our local Travel Agent. This was our second holiday in Serre Chevalier, and I wrote a detailed review following our stay in the Plein Sud in February 2012, which is a little gem of a hotel in our opinion, owned by an English lady named Lynne Laurent.
Our coach transfer was fine until we arrived in Chantmerle around 1pm, but after stopping at the Grand Hotel our driver then turned off the main road into a side road some distance from the Plein Sud, and we had to walk from there alongside the main road and then uphill to the hotel with suitcases, boot bags, ski bags and hand luggage. Not easy with snowy icy pavement. Our Crystal Rep apologised, saying the coach drivers are not really very helpful and tend to stop where they like. Last year our coach driver parked closer to the hotel, so there was no reason why they couldn't this time - very annoying! Fortunately this was the only problem we had on our holiday.
We were checked in at Reception by Magda, who I remembered from last year, and we booked our table for dinner. You have to book your time for dinner for each evening even if you have half board. I asked if we could have the same table as last year, which was not a problem. The hotel staff are either English, or understand English well enough to communicate and answer questions, and are very friendly. My husband and I do like to practise our French though.
After I had booked our holiday I sent an email to the hotel asking if we could have a room on the middle(2nd) floor again, which is on the same level as Reception, bar, dining room and the swimming pool. The hotel does not have a lift, so guests staying on the top (3rd)or lower (1st) floors have to use the stairs. We booked a South facing room with piste view and balcony, the same as last year, which we think is worth the extra cost. Only South facing rooms on 2nd and 3rd floors have balconies overlooking a small grassed area surrounded by fir trees, with a good view of the final section of the very long Luc Alphand black run, so you can watch people skiing down. North facing rooms overlook the front of the hotel and the quiet road which leads downhill to the main road at the rear of the hotel.
This year we had room 263, which was very similar to last year, except this time we had a large Kingsize bed instead of a triple room with double and single beds. Some rooms have two twin beds. Some people find beds in France rather hard, but we both found our bed comfortable with 4 soft pillows, and we slept very well. The walls in the hotel are quite thick, and we didn’t hear any noise from other rooms. Our room was warm, and we only needed the radiator on low.
Inside the room entrance we had a clothes rail with some hangers, shelf storage above including a blanket, and a unit with minibar, glasses, and three good size drawers. The fridge has a price list on the front, with bottle of Perrier(€3), 1.5L mineral water(€3), 0.50L mineral water(€2), can of coca cola(€3), and a bottle of Champagne(€23). We had two small drawers in our bedside cabinets, with storage space under. Small flat screen TV on a shelf, and we were very pleased to find that BBC 1 and BBC 2 was now available , so we had some English TV this year! We had a large desk by the window, with a further three drawers, and a chair. Telephone on bedside cabinet. Good lighting, with two bedside lights, but I only found two plug sockets we could use. If you want to recharge a few items overnight it is worth taking a multi plug extension. There was a price list on the desk of various massages that the hotel can arrange.
The bathroom had a sink unit with large mirror and a shelf under, bath with overhead shower and shower curtain, and a safe above the toilet, the same as the room we had last year. Make sure you have the toilet lid down when taking items in & out of the safe in case you accidentally drop something! The safe is easy to use, with your own 4 digit number. Soap dispenser on wall above bath, small bottles of shampoo, and shower caps. Soft white hand towels and large beach sized towels, plus towelling bath robes. Large blue towels provided for swimming pool use. There is a hairdryer on the wall by the sink, and shaver socket. I used my own hairdryer, but the flex only just reached from the socket by our room door to the full length mirror on the wall opposite the bathroom, so an extension would have been useful. I meant to pack one after the same difficulty last year, but forgot.
We did remember to take a small travel kettle, mugs, teaspoon and sachets of hot drinks and teabags this year – useful being able to make a hot drink in your room or on the balcony when you like. The balcony had a small white table and two white lounger type chairs.
Our room was clean and tidy, bed made every day, and towels changed when requested. The rooms walls are white, and rather bare apart from a picture on one wall. We think one or two more pictures of the mountains in winter or summer would make the room seem more cosy, but that is personal preference really.
The swimming pool is a good size, indoor in winter/outdoor in summer, and there is also a steam room/sauna. We did not use the pool, although I kept meaning to, but it looked very inviting when I had a look and saw a few people swimming. Men are allowed to wear swimming shorts – they don’t have to be the Speedo type trunks as in some pools in France. There is a terrace area by the pool which would be lovely in warm/hot weather, with views of the mountains. I think the pool is open until dusk as it has no extra lighting.
The bar has been redecorated since last year, and now looks more modern with ceiling spotlights and one purple wall, but we found the lighting rather bright. Seating is on wooden benches along one side of the room, with cushions and tables, which is fine for an après ski or pre dinner drink, post dinner coffee, playing cards or using laptop with free wifi, but we do prefer armchairs for relaxing after a day’s skiing. This is the only downside of this hotel for us, as we would have spent more time in the bar if it had comfortable chairs and softer lighting. After dinner we relaxed on our bed and watched TV instead.
There are high stools at the bar, and also at one high table, and one leather sofa at the far end under the large flat screen TV. The bar was quite full on a couple of evenings when there were football/rugby matches on the TV, with a good atmosphere. I sat in the bar until closing time catching up with emails on my laptop after dinner sometimes, chatting to Sebastian who was on duty. Very friendly and pleasant young man who I eventually realised is Lynne's son!
You can also get wifi in the dining room, and some rooms depending on location. The bar and all the hotel areas are kept very clean and tidy.
Happy Hour in the bar is from 17.30 to 18.30. Pint of beer/lager €4. ½ pint €2. Glass of wine €2.
Afternoon tea and cake €4.50. Slice of gateau €2. Vin chaud €4.50. Tea €2.50. Hot chocolate €3. Sodas €3. Expresso €1.50. Grand Crème (milky coffee) €3.
Spirits 4cl. €7. Liqeurs/Baileys etc 4cl. €7. They also have a cocktail of the week.
The dining room is opposite Reception desk, on the left as you enter the hotel lobby. The decor is quite rustic but comfortable, divided into separate sections with two raised areas, which we think is nice as it gives diners some privacy and feels more cosy. Old wooden skis on one wall, wooden cart wheels, and a stuffed head of what I think is a Chamois on another wall, which I guess could upset some vegetarians!
At breakfast you sit where you like, and help yourself to the buffet and juice. Hot drinks are waiter service. The buffet includes ham, cheese, fresh fruit salad, unpeeled fresh fruit, cereals, muesli, yoghurts, fruit purees, plain croissants, chocolate croissants, jam/marmalade/Nuttella, white and brown sliced bread, toaster, and machine for boiling eggs. The hotel breakfast was fine for us, but if you feel the need for a full English Breakfast you can buy this at The Station Bar near the ski lift and cable car station.
For dinner you wait to be seated, but most people seemed to sit at the same table each evening. We asked for the same table for the same time every night for our week, but you can book the previous evening or in the morning if you wish. Dinner is waiter service for starters and mains, with dessert buffet. There is a menu giving 3 choices of Starters, and 3 choices of Mains, in French, but the waiting staff will translate and explain dishes to you. The food is excellent, and very well presented. Sometimes it was very hard to choose dishes, as they all sounded so good. The Head Chef(John), Sous Chef(Liam) and Commis Chef(Henry) are all English. John had two nights off during the week, when Liam cooked as Head Chef. Our waiting staff were Zoe, Eva and Olivier – all very friendly and helpful. I recognised Zoe from last year, and she remembered us which was nice. The tables are nicely laid, with white tablecloths and candles.
I took photos of the menus each evening, and these are the dishes offered during our week –
Wild Boar Pate, Pasta parcels with ricotta and spinach, Pumpkin soup, Spinach in puff pastry, Penne Arabbiata, Chicken & mushroom vol au vent, Leek & potato soup, Chef’s Salad, Winter vegetable soup, Asiatic beef salad, Tomato soup, Gnocchi with three cheeses, Warm goats cheese salad, Chicken & mushroom soup, Linguine with tomato and pesto, Cold beef salad, French onion soup with croutons,
Lamb Tagine with rice, Trout, salmon & hake in sauce with mash and vegetables, Tartiflette & salad, Beef Bourgignon with potatoes and carrots, Salmon with pesto, Aubergine & parmesan bake, pork belly in cider with mash and beetroot, Thai salmon with rice, Mexican bean and chilli casserole with rice, Duck in orange sauce with potatoes and broccoli, Vegetable lasagne with green salad, Wild Boar & chorizo casserole with potato and carrots, Cod with crumb crust with potato puree and carrots, Mushroom Stroganoff with rice, Duck in blueberry sauce with peas & dauphinois potatoes, Hake in breadcrumbs with peas and potatoes, Goats cheese and spinach salad, steak with potatoes and carrots, whole cheese cooked in the box with salad and potatoes.
DESSERTS (a few different ones each evening) with jugs of vanilla sauce/custard, cheeseboard with three cheeses, and whole fresh fruit. You help yourself, so can have as much dessert as you like!
Chocolate tart, Rhubarb crumble, Ile Flotante(Floating Islands), Bakewell Tart, Apple Tart, Orange Panacotta, Cocolate cake, Chocolate Brownies, round chocolate cakes with warm liquid chocolate centre, Vanilla tart, Rasberry tart, Apple crumble, chocolate in glass pots, sliced fresh fruit selection – kiwi, melon, pineapple, orange.
The cost of dinner if not included in Half Board package is €28.
The hotel has a good choice of wines, with Reds from €15 - €78, White wines from €12 - €32, and Rose from €14 - €30. Champagne from €22 - €50. We had the same red wine that we had last year, Beau Mayne Dourthe, €18, which we liked, but we had to try a different one at the end of the week as they had none left. Obviously popular. The only complaint that I have about the food is that even with 6 days of skiing I put on weight and am still trying to get rid of it!
The hotel has its own heated ski/boot room with lockers for each room, on the lower level. It is only about 5-10 mins walk to the main base with cable car and chairlift, crossing the main road or using the underpass, but we found it easier to hire a locker near the lifts for the week for €35, rather than using the hotel store. You walk a short way downhill from the hotel to the main road, where there is a zebra crossing. There are then steps down which bring you to the ski base, with shops and a large indoor centre. We found this route quicker than using the underpass. The indoor centre has 3 floors, with ski school booking office, equipment and lockers hire, ski clothing, supermarket, gift shops, an amazing sweet shop, Irish Bar, La Taniere restaurant, and a bowling alley. Next to this Centre is the chairlift and cable car which take you up to the main ski area and two restaurants. People who wish to ski back down have a choice of the Luc Alphand black run or an easy green which winds through the trees, crossing the black at intervals.
The Station Bar is popular for Apres Ski with live music every day from 5pm and Happy Hour, with an outside terrace with views of the slopes, and La Taniere also has outdoor piste view seating with a cover in bad weather. There are more restaurants and shops around the Centre, and also along the main road near the Plein Sud, including a Tabac for cigarettes/tobacco, Italian Restaurant, Delicatessen, ski equipment & clothing, and gift shops.
Chantmerle is a good base village for skiing the Serre Chevalier area with Briancon to the left, and Villeneuve and Monetier to the right. Ski buses go along the road quite frequently between the resorts for those who don’t want to ski all the way out or back. There were no French school holidays on our trip, so the slopes were nice and quiet on the weekdays.
We also had a day’s skiing in Montgenevre, arranged by Crystal for €20 each, which is worth doing if you don't mind getting up early. The journey was only about 30 mins. Depending on demand they can arrange one day trips to Alpe D'Huez as well, and possibly Les 2 Alpes, but they are a longer journey of about 1 1/2 hrs. Our Crystal Rep Sarah was very helpful and friendly, coming to our room with information and to check that everything was going well.
Our pickup time on departure day was 6am, from the bus stop on the main road opposite the Plein Sud, so much closer than on arrival. The hotel provides a packed breakfast for people leaving very early, with orange juice carton, cereal bar, a cake, and a Satsuma.
Last year we had extremely cold cloudy weather the same week in February, but this year we had a lot of sunshine which was great, even though still very cold especially in the wind on the high lifts. We both really enjoyed our skiing holiday, and thanks again to Lynne and all her staff in the Hotel Plein Sud. We highly recommend this hotel and will certainly book here again if we decide to return to Serre Chevalier for a third time.
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